29B Dundas Street


The Nelson Monument

The Time Ball

The One O'clock Gun

Charles Piazzi Smith

Edinburgh Floral Clock

1805: For a reference to the earliest mention of James Ritchie, click the image below...

1809: James Ritchie opened for business in 1809 at 29 Leith Street. In addition to selling watches, the craftsman made his living repairing and cleaning watches. In 1810 Madame Tussaud visited the shop in Leith Street where she had two watches repaired during her stay in Edinburgh while she had an exhibition at the Panorama, Leith Walk.

1814: James was made a Burgess of the City of Edinburgh and the business flourished. In 1819 he took over Joseph Durward's clockmaking firm which had been established in 1775.

1814: James's eldest son, Frederick James Ritchie, became a partner in the firm, which moved to 25 Leith Street in 1850's.

1853: Frederick James Ritchie, worked with Professor Charles Piazzi Smyth, the Astronomer Royal, and Chief Master Gunner Findlay in setting up the Time Ball on the Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill, in Edinburgh. The monument was built between 1807 and 1815 to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The Time Ball was added as a visual time signal to shipping in Leith harbour and on the Firth of Forth, allowing the ships to set their chronometers. At precisely one o'clock each day the ball dropped. It was not however very effective as it required a constant look out before the scheduled time and clear visibility.

1861: It was decided to introduce a simultaneous firing of a cannon to provide an audible signal. Originally an 18-pound muzzle loading cannon located at the Half Moon Battery of Edinburgh Castle was used. It needed four men to load and fire the gun which could be easily heard by ships in the harbour at Leith some 3 kms away.

Frederick James Ritchie designed the clock which fired the One o'Clock Gun. The Time Ball was operated for over 150 years, until it was damaged by a storm in 2007.

Until the 1930s, the master clock on Calton Hill was linked to a clock at Edinburgh Castle by a 4000 ft long electric cable. This enabled the gun at the castle to be fired automatically at exactly 1pm.

1872: Frederick James Ritchie further developed inventions of Bain and Wheatstone in the field of electric timekeeping. Dispensing with the weight or spring, he realised that only small electric pulses were required to keep one or more clocks synchronised - the master clock sent impulses to each slave clock in place and propelled as well as synchronised the sympathetic pendulum by impulses from each arm of his clock's gravity escapement. He received a patent for this invention and the clocks he made were so successful in trials that a number of clocks were located around Edinburgh in 1873 forming the so-called "Edinburgh Ring". Richie's clocks were connected through the telegraph lines directly to the Edinburgh Royal Observatory and had the advantage of continupusly providing the correct time to the citizens of Edinburgh. No complete plan of the 1873 ring is known to exist but it is known that Richie Clocks were positioned at the Edinburgh City Chambers, the Royal Scottish Museum, Register House in Princes Street, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh Castle, James Ritchie & Son, the Nelson Monument, the General Post Office, the British Linen Bank and the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. The clock outside Register House (in the glass case) was part of the Public Clock Time Circuit.

1873: Frederick Ritchie read a paper to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts in April 1873. His synchronised clocks were by then in use in the Liverpool Observatory, besides Edinburgh itself, and in a variety of other places.

1873: The company opened a branch at 131 Princes Street which, in addition to specialising in watches and clocks, quickly built up a reutation for seeling high quality jewellery, gems and silver plate

1903: James Ritchie & Son designed the mechanism for the first floral clock in the world which is situated in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

1912: James Ritchie & Son manufactured and presented a non-dial chiming clock to St Giles Kirk in 1912.

2009: As part of the restoration of the Nelson monument, the Time Ball was removed and the mechanism repaired. The Time Ball was brought back into service on 24 September 2009. The mechanism is now operated manually, based on the firing of the One O'Clock Gun.

2010: "Campaigners have won permission to erect a bronze plaque in memory of Frederick James Ritchie, one of the pioneers of electric clock-making in the 19th century. They were helped by an anonymous donation. It will be placed by the door of the house on Brunton Place where he lived for more than 40 years."(The Scotsman 24 March 2010)

Diagram of Frederick Ritchie's synchronised clock

Frederick Ritchie's electric regulator

Movement of the regulator shown above